Tesla Model S drivers in California can cruise the long stretch of road between Los Angeles and San Francisco with confidence, thanks to Tesla’s new battery swapping station in Harris Ranch, Calif.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced the opening of the company’s first swapping station on December 19 via Twitter, saying it is currently operating in “limited Beta mode.” Shortly after his tweet, a blog post on Tesla’s website outlined the details of the station, including its location and a general reference to its cost, which the post says will be “slightly less than a full tank of gasoline for a premium sedan.” The post also said the swapping process takes around three minutes, although they are working on reducing that time to one minute through “further automation and refinements on the vehicle side.”
Rolling out battery swapping technology has been high on Elon Musk’s agenda for few years now. The Model S was designed to accept a mechanically replaced battery, and in 2013, Musk began teasing Tesla owners with the technology by demoing a battery swap live at Tesla’s LA Design studio.
This demo occurred in June 2013, shortly after Better Place, another company focused on battery swapping technology, liquidated and sold its assets. The failure of Better Place caused some to question the feasibility of battery swapping, but Better Place’s Board of Directors remained firm in their commitment to battery swapping, saying they still believed it was a worthwhile mission that they hoped others would continue to work toward.
“The vision is still valid and important and we remain hopeful that eventually the vision will be realized for the benefit of a better world. However, Better Place will not be able to take part in the realization of this vision,” Better Place’s Board of Directors said in a joint statement as the company closed down operations in May of 2013.
Despite Better Place’s unwavering optimism about battery swapping technology, critics suggest that certain factors make battery swapping impractical or unnecessary. These factors include convenience, after Musk stated in 2013 that customers who wanted to retrieve their original battery pack would have to return to the station where they swapped it out, and redundancy, in light of Tesla’s growing Supercharger network which offers a lifetime of free solar-powered charging to Tesla owners.
Tesla appears to be heeding these concerns and is taking a more cautious approach by using its beta-mode swapping facility as a testing ground to gauge the viability and demand for the technology. Based on its blog post, it seems the expansion of Tesla’s battery swapping efforts hinge largely on the beta facility’s success.
“Tesla will evaluate relative demand from customers for paid pack swap versus free charging to assess whether it merits the engineering resources and investment necessary for that upgrade,” Tesla said in its blog post.